Making it 18 – the SNP votes yes to raising the age of recruitment


ForcesWatch comment

Douglas Beattie reports on an important campaigning moment.

On the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow earlier this month the Scottish National Party passed a resolution backing raising the age of military recruitment to 18.

This Conference vote (Sunday 8 October) came after two years of hard work by the SNP’s youth wing, the YSI, who had won the backing of numerous members, MSPs and some MPs.

There were passionate speeches on both sides of the argument, but the young delegates won the day with overwhelming support in the hall when it came to a vote.

The key text of the motion read: Conference calls upon the UK Government to work towards raising the minimum armed forces recruitment age from 16 to 18 for all roles that require combat training in line with international standards and affirms that this will form a part of the SNP’s Defence Policy for an independent Scotland.

Work by ForcesWatch was used by those backing the change and the recent report by health professionals’ charity, Medact, on military recruitment was frequently cited.

Rhiannon Spear, national convener of the YSI told delegates that those who join at 16 and 17 are “more likely to suffer PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, commit suicide and more likely to die or be injured in active service than older recruits.”

Quoting directly from the Medact report Spear said the MoD took “direct advantage of how young people’s brains work, and their psychosocial vulnerabilities,” targeting alienated youngsters “searching for their place in the world under the immense austerity pressures of job insecurity and low pay.”

MSP Christina McKelvie said that comparing the military age of recruitment to giving young people the vote – as some on the other side of the argument had sought to do – was “a false equivalence argument.”

She said: “If we give a young person a pencil to go into a ballot box to put an X on a piece of paper, that’s nothing like the same equivalence to handing them a gun, teaching them how to us that gun, dehumanising them to the point that thy will go into combat with that person facing them.”

Media coverage of the vote was extensive with articles appearing in The Herald, The Scotsman, The National, The Times, Daily Record and Common Space among others.

The next day a fringe event was held on the issue heard from Bruce Adamson, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Rachel Taylor from Child Soldiers International and Ronnie Cowan MP; one of the leading backers of the policy change at Westminster.

All three speakers welcomed the move by the Conference.

They also discussed the importance of the policy shift in terms of welfare and recruitment practices going forward, plus also how the passing of the resolution may change thinking in the party and beyond at Westminster.

There was also strong backing at the meeting from the YSI and the speakers for a Commission – suggested by the party’s Westminster defence spokesman Stewart McDonald MP – to advise on the wider changes needed in the military.

See more: legislation & policy, recruitment age, risks, Scotland